Cover Your Tracks

Content warning: The following pages and associated links describe in detail potentially emotionally distressing content around FGM.


Is FGM harmful?

FGM can cause serious health consequences for women and girls. These health consequences can be both short-term (at or around the time of the practice); or long-term (in some cases might affect women for the rest of their lives). The health consequences depend on many factors including the type of FGM performed and how it was performed. It is important to remember that everyone’s experience of FGM is different and that some women and girls may not feel that they have any health consequences.

Immediate or short-term health consequences include:

  • Severe pain – as the practice is usually done without anaesthetics girls may go into shock because the pain is so severe.
  • Bleeding – there are many major blood vessels in the area and girls may haemorrhage (lose too much blood). Excessive blood loss is the largest cause of death linked to FGM.
  • Infections – including tetanus, which is an infection that people can get from contact with rusty blades or instruments.
  • Injury to tissue and organs near the genital region.

Long-term health consequences include:

  • Difficulties with urination – particularly in Type III where the urethra (the opening that allows urine to leave the body) might be covered.
  • Difficulties with menstruation - this may include menstruation (periods) being more painful; menstrual blood taking a longer time to leave the body because the opening is narrower.
  • Infections including recurrent urinary tract infections.
  • Difficulties with sexual intercourse and intimate physical interactions. This may be because the vaginal opening is narrowed, because of the formation of scar tissue or because women may not feel comfortable with intimate physical relationships as it reminds them of when FGM took place.
  • Cysts, abscesses, keloid scarring which may be because of the way the area has healed.
  • Psychological complications these can include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression. Girls and women may feel anger towards to their family as in most cases it is a close family member who makes the decision for them to go through FGM. Girls and women may feel shame or anxiety about their bodies particularly when living in countries or communities where FGM is not widely practiced or well-known. This may make them feel worried about how they can disclose what has happened to them to professionals, friends and partners.

Is FGM a problem in the UK?

FGM is a global problem and is everybody’s business. We know that girls and women in the UK are at risk of FGM and there are many girls and women who are living with the effects of FGM in the UK. A recent study conducted by City University London and Equality Now and published in 2015, estimated that 137,000 women living in the UK had already undergone FGM and 60,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM.

Recently health professionals have been recording when they have patients who have undergone FGM – this provides us with actual numbers of women and girls who have gone through the practice. The latest FGM data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) shows that between April and June 2015 – 1,036 new cases of FGM were recorded of those 9 were cases of individuals under 18 years old. The HSCIC also reported that from the period of September 2014 to March 2015 – 3,963 new cases of FGM were reported nationally, 60 of those were cases of individuals under 18 years old.

Is FGM illegal?

Yes, FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985. At the time it was only illegal for people to perform FGM in the UK. In 2003 the FGM Act added protection to girls and women no matter where they were in the world.

The FGM Act (2003) made it illegal to:

  • Mutilate the genitalia of a girl or a woman in any way
  • Enable a girl or woman to go through FGM
  • Take a British citizen or permanent resident of the UK to have the procedure done in another country

The legislation allows for medical procedures to the genital region if there is a health reason for the procedure to take place.

The law also makes it clear that there is no age at which performing FGM would be legal. This means that adult women (over the age or 18) cannot consent to FGM and if someone performs it on them they are breaking the law.

The FGM Act states that anyone successfully convicted of FGM could face up to 14 years in prison. However to date there has yet to be a single successful prosecution for FGM.

In 2015 the UK Government introduced new legislation, through the Serious Crime Act (2015) that strengthened the legal protection offered to women. The changes in the Serious Crime Act (2015) include:

  • Expanding the law to include ‘habitual residents’ in the UK allowing greater protection for girls and women living in the UK but who do not have permanent citizenship.
  • Providing anonymity to ‘victims’ of FGM – this will hopefully encourage girls and young women to come forward and disclose if they have had FGM as their names will not be made pubic.
  • Parental liability. This is a new offence for failing to protect a girl from FGM. This means that parents and adult guardians now have a responsibility for actively ensuring that they are protecting their daughters from undergoing FGM.
  • FGM Protection Orders. These are similar to Forced Marriage Protection Orders and can be issued by the court to ensure that girls are protected from FGM.
  • Mandatory Reporting

More information can be found here: